With four sequels and counting, the Silent Hill video-game series remains a model of the horror genre, renowned for its foggy atmospherics and the unusual sophistication of cinematic elements like plot and character development. Could this be the raw material for the first passable game-to-movie adaptation? The beginning of the film version holds promise, if only for the stunning first look at an otherworldly ghost town nestled in West Virginia mining country, where a perpetual flurry of gray ash coats the abandoned shops and buildings on Main Street. On occasion, evil forces within the town will conjure an alternate reality called the Darkness, which peels off an already grim façade to reveal a Matrix-y underworld crawling with deformed, light-sensitive beasts. How did it get that way? Get comfortable, because it takes a lot of explaining. And still more explaining. Then, more than two hours later, after many monologues and flashbacks and obscure archival discoveries, it's still pretty damned confusing.
This much is clear: Radha Mitchell and Sean Bean have an adopted daughter (Jodelle Ferland) who looks like spooky, raven-haired Samara from The Ring. She's a sweet kid during waking hours, but after falling asleep, she suffers psychotic episodes that revolve around a town called Silent Hill. Over Bean's objections, Mitchell Googles the place and whisks her daughter off to West Virginia, having no real plan other than to peel into town at top speed and see what happens. Knocked unconscious after crashing her car on the outskirts, Mitchell awakes to find the kid missing, so she follows the proverbial trail of breadcrumbs to The School, The Hotel, The Hospital, and other places where the cutscenes direct her. Accompanied by an intrepid local officer (Laurie Holden), Mitchell travels between worlds, caught in a battle centering on a witch-hunting religious cult.
The film's peculiar rhythms–action, exposition, action, exposition–betray its video-game roots, but audiences unfamiliar with the Silent Hill series can be forgiven for thinking that the game asks players to run from place to place, shouting a little girl's name at the top of their lungs. Granted, there are occasional obstacles, like the guy in beakish metal headgear wielding a comically oversized knife, or the undead female dancers from the "Addicted To Love" video. But mostly, the film is about getting to new locations where the Darkness manifests through CGI magic, and creepy Puritan types haplessly try to explain what's going on. Recommended to those who feel The Crucible doesn't feature enough bodies ripped in half vertically. Others are duly warned.